I have already covered a few shows from 1994, yet I still find myself drawn to the year again and again. With Prince playing with a looseness and freshness, the concerts of this era always sound lively when listening, even if the setlists are often very similar. The concert I am listening to today comes from a recommendation from someone who was there. It was apparently quite a night and even though the setlist doesn’t reveal anything too surprising, the performance is outstanding: there is a guest appearance by Stevie Wonder and Mavis Staples that makes the recording compulsory listening. Both add soul and link Prince back to the past, cementing his place on Mt Olympics with the other music gods. With plenty of twists and turns in the music, there is plenty to appreciate with a closer listen, but like everyone, it’s these guest appearances that are the real reason I want to hear this.
26th June 1994, Glam Slam, Los Angeles
I am immediately surprised by the opening “The Jam”. A song that I often find pedestrian and overly long, in this case it is upbeat and captures my attention from the start. This is helped in large part by Morris Haynes who is first to play and gives us a solo in his typical style. The song moves quickly, no one person plays too long, and with a Michael Bland drum solo appearing midsong I find the recording has an early momentum to it. The final Sonny T bass solo isn’t anything I haven’t heard before, but it does bring the song to a stomping finish.
I have heard “I Believe In You” across a variety of concerts and the version played at this concert is one of the more memorable versions I have heard. The opening minutes don’t offer much, it is once Prince turns his guitar up that the song becomes something much more muscular and forceful. He plays with finesse rather than a fury, something that demonstrates his ability far more than a flurry of notes would. Without overworking the guitar, Prince’s break elevates the song and adds a backbone to a song that was previously meandering.
As “Interactive” begins I am transported back to 1994 and the Interactive video game in an instant. Such is the power of music to bring back memories. The version at this show doesn’t begin strongly, it is the second part of the song where all the thrills and excitement await. Prince’s guitar leads the way, with a minute of incisive and sharp playing that leaves me dizzy. It may be only a minute, but it is a thrilling ride showing Prince at his best.
“Days Of Wild” is a 13 minute jam the encapsulates all that was good and great about Prince and the NPG in 1994. The band jam easily across the song, the insistent funk staying to the fore as they throw a variety of sounds over the top of it. The heavy squelch holds the bottom, something that I usually enjoy most, but in this case there is so much else happening I find I hardly notice it. Prince is in fine form, joking with the band as he runs them through their paces. The bass playing late in the song is the definite highlight – firstly a light solo that has me swooning here at home, then switching to “777-9311”, at which point I almost faint in child-like excitement. The song is a 10 in my book, and by the time the guitar comes with waves of bluster and bravado I am considering scoring it an 11.
As an album track “Now” is neither here nor there. Live, however, it is another great moment, and like the preceding “Days Of Wild”, it gets a 13 minute jam. As an all-in performance the song becomes a glorious live celebration, the crowd can be heard chanting a whooping in appreciation throughout. I particularly like the breakdown midsong, as the music slows and the long groove of Morris Hayes carries the song for some minutes. The song continues as a laid back groove for quite sometime, even with Prince on the microphone and guitar it still doesn’t ignite back into a song again until well past the ten minute mark. As Prince sings “Superstitious” the music stays low, his lone guitar signalling the end of the song.
Prince’s guitar stays the main focus with “Mary Don’t You Weep”. He plays a sparkling opening before the lyrics begin, and then as the music changes he returns with a further cascade of guitar. The crowd contribute their part as Prince leads then through a chorus, before the keyboards come on board with a solo from Tommy that is easy on the ear. The response from Prince is great, some mellow and melodic guitar work that displays an intricacy and emotional core. It is his guitar that carries the song to its natural conclusion, flowing easily until it dries up.
“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is mature in it’s sound, it lacks some sparkle of the single release, yet this mustang mix is far more rewarding and holds up well on repeated listening. It is a complete performance, Prince is playing well within the band and to my ears it is more complete and well rounded. The song is marinated in a funky adult rhythm that hints to the growth of Prince at this time and new directions he is pursuing. The is no doubt though that the real highlight comes in the final minutes as Prince calls for Stevie Wonder to come to the stage, preparing us for what comes next.
There is some mutual love between the two as Stevie Wonder opens up on the microphone about the influence of Prince and all those that came before, thus providing context where Prince’s music fits into the big picture. The following song is anything that you might expect or wish for. There is plenty of Stevie’s singing as they play “Maybe Your baby”, plenty of funky keyboards, and plenty of Prince’s hot guitar playing. He doesn’t mess around with a smoldering solo here, it is all furnace and fire as he puts an exclamation point on all that Stevie provides. This moment of the bootleg promised the world, and boy did it deliver.
The high standard is maintained for the following “I’ll Take You There” with Mavis Staples leading from the front. As far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive version with Mavis’s vocals, Princes guitar and the bass of Sonny T playing up a storm together. Mavis stands head and shoulders above all else though, and her contribution can’t be underestimated. I thought the appearance of Stevie was mind blowing, Mavis comes a very close second and almost upstages him.
“Dark” comes as a smooth ride after this, it would be a let down if it wasn’t just so easy and enjoyable to listen to. Prince again becomes the main focus of the show as the music swirls and stabs around him, not quite concrete enough to latch onto yet the stabs providing a sharpness that gives the song some shape. It may not as monumental as some of the other performances on the recording, but I find it just as satisfying.
The song does become an upbeat instrumental which, although four minutes long, serves as an introduction for “Get Wild”. It does flicker and flame for sometime before Prince calls for Mayte and “Get Wild” kicks off in high gear. It’s not terribly interesting musically, as is his way Prince uses most of the song to engage with the audience, encouraging them to sing the chorus and get wild themselves. It sounds like a lot of fun, but on the bootleg it is a flat spot.
The show ends with a raw “Peach”, introduced by the comment “This is a cover version of a song by someone called Prince”. Its fast, full and frenzied. Prince’s guitar is wonderfully dirty and leaves very little space for anything else in the song, exactly as it should be. Peach can get repetitive, but this performance is one of the better ones and it is a bright ending to what has been an excellent concert.
This recording delivered everything it promised. As to be expected, the guest appearances were phenomenal and the rest of the show was just as spirited. There are plenty of great bootlegs from the 1994 concerts, this one would be very high on my recommendations list. I am thankful that it was recommended to me and I would happily recommend it to anyone else.